Friday, November 30, 2007

Further Refractions in the Mirror of Tradition (11.10.10)

As we were discussing yesterday, with the scientific revolution, the idea of progress began to dominate western civilization. It's not so much that progress wasn't occurring -- which it obviously was -- but that it was only a certain kind of very visible progress rooted in the scientific method and in technology. The idea of progress contradicted what had been believed by virtually all human groups prior to the scientific revolution, which is that everything was subject to a steady decline and degeneration. There was no "moving forward"; rather, the idea was to try, insofar as it was possible, to approximate the "golden age" of the past. Slack was in the past, not the future, and every day meant further deslackment.

The idea of universal degeneration was no doubt rooted in empirical observation. For example, everyone has the personal experience of their own body aging and degenerating. More generally, there has never been a time when man was unaware of the universality of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, which mandates that in the long run, everything tends toward disorder. Although there can be local areas that seem to defy entropy -- such as life -- it is only temporary. Furthermore, close examination of seeming exceptions to the law of entropy reveals that they always deplete more energy than they create, resulting in a net loss of energy. Or at least according to physics.

Irrespective of whether reality is inevitably "winding down" into chaos, we can see how the very idea of automatic (as opposed to self-willed) progress can lead to increased societal disorder. As Bolton explains, "The belief that the new must be the best nearly always works in favor of the bad." This ironyclad rule has been dramatically proven time and again since "progressivism" took root with the New Deal. The mindless idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and truth, as we see most vividly on leftist college campuses, where virtually everything is simultaneously new and wrong. And the only solution (a far as they can see) is newer ideas, which only results in further chaos and confusion -- further distance from the ideal, or from principial truth. The idea that Truth lies in the past is inconceivable.

Civilization, according to Bolton "cannot undergo real historical change unless it possesses a structure of permanent principles which impose limits on the possible scope for change." Indeed, this is something that all liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."

Speaking of which, here's a good start (TW: American Digest):

"I believe that the entire Western university system needs to be crushed, broken, pulverized, autoclaved, autoclaved again, thermally depolymerized, mixed with radioactive strontium, and shot into the Sun. That is, if the Sun can handle it. If it starts developing huge festering brown spots after ten or twenty years, we'll know we should have gone with the Oort Cloud instead."

One important allied idea of Bolton's (which I will to get into later) is that we are wrong to think that we either exist or do not exist; rather, there are degrees of existence, existence being rooted in difference (in other words, there can only be existence to the extent that something is "different," or "stands out").

Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of differences is the very definition of evil. Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of Joel Steins, or neutered adolescents. Again, more on this later, but we can see that the next logical step down this slope into the nihilistic effacement of differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences, not efface them -- although, as Will points out, one can also rise above differences, which is a very different thing than sinking beneath them, a point Bolton also makes.)

Because of the idea of progress, we must -- either consciously or unconsciously -- believe ourselves to be superior to our ancestors. This is very much in contrast to traditional societies, where ancestors -- and the truth they handed down -- are venerated. Now obviously, neither extreme is warranted, i.e., ancestor worship (which would cause complete stasis) or kneejerk rebellion (which leads to the loss of mankind's accumulated wisdom, or the disease of the Boomer generation). But again, we can see how the morally and intellectually superior progressive always knows better than the most illustrious minds of the past. Because of the accident of time, the contemporary progressive can look back, say, at the Founders, and regard them as mere "objects" in the rearview mirror. We can see them, but they can't see us.

But this is true only in the most materialistic sense. For example, Shakespeare is "in the past," but do we really know him? No, of course not. His plays will always understand us -- which is to say, humanity as such -- better than we understand him. Likewise, it is difficult for us to imagine the stupidity of the typical leftist who believes himself superior to the Founders because some of them owned slaves. This is what the idea of progress (wrongly construed) can do to a mind, which is to say, destroy it.

I generally see the same problem in the so-called "integral" movement, which is one of the main reasons I don't relate to them. In their dubious color-code system -- to quote one of them, who shall go unnamed -- Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul are typical examples of "traditional consciousness," and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale than representatives of "modernist consciousness" such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Sanger. In turn, they are lower than the lofty beings who embody "postmodern consciousness," such as John Lennon, Joan Baez, Margaret Mead, and Allen Ginsberg.

I don't deny that there is some inevitable truth in "spiral dynamics," but any scheme that places Joan Baez above Winston Churchill is just plain kooky (unless your criterion is that of the "eternally annoying"). It's time to come up with another scheme.

Now, one thing that was different about the past is that people were unaware of other religious traditions, let alone science. Therefore, they lived in a kind of "innocence" (which literally means "without knowledge") that is impossible for us. If we wish to be "spiritual," we must do so consciously. Therefore, in some sense we are obviously more "awake" than our ancestors, but the question is, to what?

Bolton writes that one compensatory factor for us is that in the past it was "really only a minor achievement to live spiritually in an age when spiritual values are established and expressed everywhere and the unspiritual is marginalized." There was a collective religiosity, but this generally came at the expense of personal development, or individuation in a spiritual context.

Bolton even makes the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it. Thus, in this respect, perhaps we have the potential to travel "higher" than our ancestors, if only because it's so exceedingly difficult to do so. I suppose it's analogous to exercising where there is more gravity, say on the earth as opposed to the moon. Not only are we "swimming upstream," but we are much further from the source, at least in the horizontal sense; in a relative sense, horizontality takes us further and further from the source, even if, in an absolute vertical sense, it is always the same "distance" away.

And in fact, this is a recurring idea in traditional metaphysics, that the very purpose of "incarnation" is to evolve under adverse circumstances, ultimately to "spiritualize matter." Bolton writes, "Such is the meaning of the Cross, as well as the purpose of ensoulment in the material world." There is a paradox at work here, in that, in one sense, materiality seems to the furthest distance from spirit.

But as Bolton explains, there is a deeper principle involved, "a law of polarity according to which only the highest cause can extend to the lowest level of effects." In other words, most causes and effects in the world are in the "middle range," and therefore of little cosmic consequence. Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion. The testimony of thousands of seekers -- or even just AA members -- reveals that when you are near the end, you are near the beginning.

One subtle danger of simply "returning to tradition," is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy as afflict the individual. Let's say we want to "return" to the "original meaning" of Christianity. Doing so is not as easy as it sounds, since Christianity necessarily exists "in the world," and absorbs qualities of the world in order to continue to exist. As such, Bolton writes that "the function of tradition can actually be inverted under modern conditions," since the monotheistic religions "have each grown increasingly absorbed by their historical social roles, so that it has become an exercise of awareness to relate to the spirit which they nevertheless embody."

This is why I -- and probably other Raccoons -- are hesitant to "join a church," for fear that one would actually be turning away from spirituality and toward the world. Certainly this is the problem with "fundamentalism," which is mostly worldly (in a naive, or worse, sometimes cunning sense) and materialistic. It is definitely a response to the abnormal conditions of modernity, and therefore itself abnormal.

Out of time.... To be continued. I'll leave you with something from Maurice Nicoll's Living Time, courtesy of Walt:

"The point to be noticed is that if there be potential degrees of development hidden as a scale within man, no one can rise in this scale of his own potential being unless he transcends the purely sensual or material outlook. The psychological implications behind this view are really of very great interest and importance. A sensualistic or materialistic outlook limits us psychologically, in the fullest sense of this word, so that if there be higher degrees of consciousness we will be incapable of reaching them if we believe only in the "evidence of things seen," or seek only for proof from the visible, tangible and matter-of-fact side of things, or regard the world simply as we see it.

"If the universe be in man (as a scale of reality) as well as man in the universe, then if a man gives an inferior explanation of the universe it will react on himself; he will limit himself and remain inferior to his own potential being. He is then left nothing else to do but to study a dead material world outside him, out of which his own life and his mind accidentally come.

"If there be energies in us capable of seeking another direction, they will then necessarily find no goal. For if there be 'things of the spirit,' if there be higher degrees of consciousness and realness within, then all those impulses which in their right development should separate man from the tyranny of outer life, and create inner independence of soul through the realization of these higher degrees within, will become fused with the things of outer life into one common outer influence; for, having no inner goal, their goal will seem to lie outside him. The hypnotic power of outer life will then be increased. The 'outer' will then tend to be felt fanatically i.e. religiously.

"And that is perhaps why in this age of materialism men are doomed to sacrifice themselves more and more to mass organizations, to machines, to speed, to gigantism and ugliness of every kind, in order to get emotional satisfaction. Seen from this angle, the attitude of scientific materialism really increases man's inner weakness, which is always too great. In all that belongs to himself, in all that is necessary for the dawn of individuality, it renders him more and more impotent, giving him the illusion that he can gain absolute power over a dead material world. And with this increasing inner weakness he seeks more and more to put himself under some dominating personality, to surrender his thinking, to cease to be a man at all. What paradox could be stranger?"

25 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Thanks for publishing that passage from Nicoll. For Frothers, it's like tomorrow's news today, and you can't beat that!

I was interested in Bolton's idea:
"...the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it..."

This agrees in principle with what Schuon wrote in the book you mentioned a few days ago, Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts:
"In former ages the spirit was more or less ubiquitous but was more difficult to reach and realize just because it was present everywhere: its very boundlessness precluded easiness. It was there but had a tendency to disappear; today it is hidden but has a tendency to give itself."

Sounds like "rest for the weary," on the one hand, and "let's roll" on the other!

11/30/2007 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

A good case in point: scientific change in the context of moral permanence in the stem cell debate.

11/30/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of differences is the very definition of evil<<

This unholy equation might be symbolized for us at this very time by the geopolitical machinations aimed at dividing the city of Jerusalem - which could turn what should be an inviolate holy city into a blend of international elements, controlled by the U.N. or some other such ghastly entity.

Also, I think not only the blending to be a threat, but the threat of our actually attempting to *imitate* the Creator in further acts of separation at a literally elemental level - genetic manipulation, for example, not to mention the act of separating the elements of the atom.

Now, if certain sources are to be believed, this would not be the first time humans became involved with such a Faustian, hubris-inspired bargain. The myths of monstrosities like the satyr, the centaur, the mermaid, etc. (and they certainly are monstrous if you think about it) might have their origins, say the aforementioned sources, in the same kind of Faustian violations of the natural, divine order.

You know, the kind of thing that led to the eventual corrective Deluge . . . because at whatever level an unnatural blending takes place, the corrective rebuke will eventually come along.

11/30/2007 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"any kind of indiscriminate blending of differences is the very definition of evil"

Ah. That explains why the Bible forbids wearing mixed-fabric clothing.

11/30/2007 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

And casting pearls before swine.

11/30/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"I believe that the entire Western university system needs to be crushed, broken, pulverized, autoclaved, autoclaved again, thermally depolymerized, mixed with radioactive strontium, and shot into the Sun. That is, if the Sun can handle it. If it starts developing huge festering brown spots after ten or twenty years, we'll know we should have gone with the Oort Cloud instead."

Admirably thorough and effective, no doubt... but complicated. I still gotta go with H.L.Mencken's advice which I believe I've mentioned before, (yeah, over and over...), "A startling and dramatic improvement in American education requires only that we hang all the professors and burn down the schools."

Short, simple, timeless advice that even an intellectual could follow.

11/30/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"And casting pearls before swine."

Heh, heh.

Implying Bob shouldn't publish works for public consumption?

11/30/2007 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Vanity Fair
when black friday comes
hard heels clack on cobblestones
r-squared regression

11/30/2007 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>The mindless idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and truth . . . <<

Whew, would this ever be true re: the arts in the 20th-21st century. The desperation to, in E. Pound's dictum, "Make It new!", got to the point in music, for example, that "newness" was to be insured by the formula of serial music, ie., an almost totally mechanical and programmed music. This, of course, eliminated such factors as intuition/divine inspiration, likewise eliminating any vestige of wisdom and truth.

It's my impression that many artists began to think of the breaking of traditional form as a method of actual conversion, and more - as a method to actually transform Man into Utopian New Man. In other words, an attempt to "speed up evolution", another Faustian tripwire.

11/30/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Van -

>> "A startling and dramatic improvement in American education requires only that we hang all the professors and burn down the schools."<<

Is good, but how's this for a primal scream - Shakespeare's "First let's kill all the lawyers"?

11/30/2007 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Will,
First things first, first the people that make the lawyers, then you can clear out the leftovers, without having to go back and take care of a new infestation.

(No offense Joseph)

;-)

11/30/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Cryptic:

We find you repellant, but at least your fulsomely moronic comments always have the unintended consequence of loudly making Bob's point.

11/30/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger CO said...

"One subtle danger of simply 'returning to tradition,' is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy as afflict the individual."

Bob makes a good point. I think that it's natural as human beings to pine nostalgically for things of the past, for the familiar, many of which are social constructs. I have witnessed interpersonal relationship sour over time as the people in the relationship changed. The unrealistic side of me wished that a relationship could return to what it had been. However, the framing of a relationship around two or more individuals--who have embarked on disparate journeys and gone through different experiences-- makes this impossible.

This is the same for institutions and traditions. Historical entropy and institutional entropy impact our lives at every turn.

As an aside, this is one of the best arguments, in my opinion, against imposing sustainability as an environmental ideal. Sustainability has become a universally accepted standard: I wish more people would question the concept. Was some past ecological state truly any more ideal than the present? Why not the ecological state of 100 years ago or 500 years ago, for that matter?

11/30/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Coonified said...

I was never a pusher of SD, but I did try a couple times back in collage; had a couple of wicked visions of the ubermensch--among other things--and then put it down. I still see colors though.

If my mind wouldn't have taken the day off I'd have more to say.

Later

11/30/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Well, Petey, I'm happy to serve. It's good to know my comments aren't entirely purposeless and empty insults.

I don't find most of you repellent at all.

11/30/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

"As an aside, this is one of the best arguments, in my opinion, against imposing sustainability as an environmental ideal. Sustainability has become a universally accepted standard: I wish more people would question the concept. Was some past ecological state truly any more ideal than the present? Why not the ecological state of 100 years ago or 500 years ago, for that matter?"

co -

i was starting to compile a "dictionary" of PoMo/Green buzzwords,when i came across...

"The Fashionable Dictionary"
Your guide to the language of pseudoscience and fashionable nonsense:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/
dictionary.php

this relates to the discussion of "tradition" and nostalgia in the onging thread, because broad,vague "soft language" ideas like "sustainability" lead to nuttiness like the Georgia Guidestones,
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Georgia_Guidestones]
and its gentle suggestions to somehow rid the planet of five sixths of its population and "make room for nature".

buzzwords,and the ethos of
"marketing(perpetual)change" they carry along with them, are part of the addiction to random "newness" being discussed in the thread.

11/30/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Did anybody else go to Gagdad's 2nd link today? Go witness in slow motion, the word by word tearing of a new one for a recently published poet and the coterie that breeds in that groupthink tank.

q-> I feel this should be uttered with a rich, caressing NPR diction, as if one were, say, John Hockenberry. "This is John Hockenberry, for National Public Radio. I don't find most of you repellent at all."

11/30/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

I overlooked it earlier, but by golly Mizz E, you got it exactly right!

From the link:
"The result is completely flat and content-free. It is not almost-pure-empty or even pure-empty, it is just empty."

11/30/2007 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Mizz E said... "Did anybody else go to Gagdad's 2nd link today? "

Yes I did, with sweet and sour delight. Mencius Moldbug's writing reminded me a bit of Richard Mitchel, the Underground Grammarian.

From one of Mitchell's newsletters (all of his newsletters and books are available at the link above, either on line or pdf or doc downloads), there's this gem, which I'll hack up so as not to hog all the html, he starts with this quote from Dante, rips the typical 'no longer relevant dead white guy' objections, before the portion I've plopped below:

The Curriculum from Hell

"For we have reached the place of which I spoke,
where you will see the miserable people,
those who have lost the good of intellect."

Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries
were echoing across the starless air,
so that, as soon as I set out, I wept.

Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements,
accents of anger, words of suffering,
and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands,

all went to make a tumult that will whirl
forever through that turbid, timeless air,
like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls."

[... ...]

Nevertheless, those who have read Hell will see that in all of these objections--and they are not faked--there is an amazing inappropriateness, and will be brought to wonder how anybody could possibly imagine that such considerations were, well, relevant to the book, even if true. And among those that stand amazed at such irrelevance will be the girl from the barrio who has read Hell. It never fails. And with her there will stand atheists and suburbanites and vegetarians, and even those who think of themselves as Roman Catholics.

How can this be?

Go back now and read again the epigraph. Carefully. Notice, for instance, that we are among those who have lost not intellect, which readily lends itself to anything we want to do, but the good of intellect, which must be something else. Wonder what that something else might be. Ask: is there some special Roman Catholic notion hidden here, some at least religious notion, some notion that would be foreign and abhorrent to the Chinese perhaps, or the Martians, or some notion suitable to men only?

Ask yourself this: where could you go, today, to find yourself surrounded by strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, and accents of anger, all making an endless, gritty tumult, like whirling sand in the turbid air? If you are at a loss to answer, watch the news tonight.

Herein lies the power of Dante's Hell, where also lies the power of any number of works against which charges of irrelevance are so easily brought. It just happens to be true, and accurate as well. But its truth is in principle, not in particulars, which change so universally and rapidly as to seem, in any serious consideration of the business of human life, the truly irrelevant details.


Mitchell is a worthwhile addition to your head.

11/30/2007 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Thanks Van!

From Mitchell's Memorial Service:

"Using hand-set type and a 19th-century printing press in his basement, Dr. Mitchell produced an irreverent publication that listed the linguistic offenses of deans and professors who Dr. Mitchell said wrote "like apes." He quoted from memoranda written by educators, listing names, positions and sometimes salaries."

Truth will out.

11/30/2007 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous stevesh said...

Did you say mirror?

"I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Eveyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one's eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people's eyes can see further than mine." (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

This quote is the entry for November 29, in the book of his collected quotes, The Business of Heaven, Readings For The Year. Hmmm. ("Way-aay-aaayve-length, You Never Let Me Down, No, No..." Thanks, Bob)

11/30/2007 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

It's not tradition, it's not religion, it's faith,, a relationship. It is simple and unchanging throughout the ages. It's all here, in the book.

11/30/2007 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Pretty esoteric, huh?

11/30/2007 11:05:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Nomo,
When I was "... among those who have lost not intellect, which readily lends itself to anything we want to do..."
I would have recoiled at,

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."

would have done probably a passable imitation of cryptlife... that might be going too far, Hitchens or Harris anyway. 'What an evil concept, saved not through your actions buy by some cosmic real estate agent, and in spite of what good you do!'

but that would be to take 'good' as a particular thing done, and to miss completely "...but the good of intellect, which must be something else. ", and having grasped that, that the Good, the Beautiful and the True exist, and whether or not you do good deeds "...like the man who is willing to be virtuous so long as he is known to be virtuous...", if you do not grasp that the deeds must be done because they are Good, then it matters not whether or not you have done the deed at all - if it is done as a good and not for Good, it is but a deed, and nothing more, and you will never be a part of the Good that lasts for evermore.

12/01/2007 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

... and there but for the Grace of God, go I -

12/01/2007 08:36:00 AM  

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